Life in the 21st century moves at such a fast pace that it often seems to pass us by before we can really enjoy it or appreciate our achievements.
This is especially true for stepfamilies due in part to the family unit having to cope with the intermittent separation of children from parents as a result of some/all of the children being part-time residences of two households. When your whole family is only together for say five or seven nights a fortnight, families typically try to cram a whole lot of everything into that reduced time and the time you are all together seems to speed by.
Whilst being a part of a stepfamily is both rewarding and challenging, when caught up in the day-to-day grind of stepfamily life it is often easier to focus on the challenges and difficulties than it is to appreciate the rewards. Let’s face it, appreciation and enjoyment is easier said than done when one is busy making lunches, preparing dinners, doing school runs, chauffeuring the children from one activity to another, managing the homework battle, refereeing family disputes and accommodating the school’s or sports team’s fundraising efforts. All whilst trying to work on your relationship with your partner, maintain a civil and cooperative relationship with your stepkid’s other parent and possibly holding down a job.
Even when at home there’s inevitably a never ending to-do list of things that need maintained, fixed or upgraded. I mean, phew, it’s exhausting just thinking about all the balls that a parent/stepparent might be juggling at any point in time. No wonder we can inadvertently become very task and activity orientated (as opposed to relationship focused) and move through the day, the week or the month on autopilot, doing what needs to be down and moving onto the next task, chore or errand, without pause.
Think about it – how often do you jump in the car to head to supermarket and arrive there with no real memory of the drive? Likewise, in conversations with others, how often have you automatically answered ‘good thanks’ in response to that person’s greeting without listening or really hearing what it was they were actually saying or asking? In that moment, whilst you may have looked like you were really listening, your mind was elsewhere and you were really thinking about what it was you wanted to say or making a mental list of all the things you needed to do before tomorrow.
Taking time to smell those blooming proverbial roses might just be time that you just don’t have to spare! However, it is precisely because of all the busy-ness and the stressors that we should try to regularly take time out to smell the sweet scent of the roses, the delicate scent of lily-of-the-valley, the heady aroma of wisteria or the soothing smell of jasmine.
A 2012 study in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences drew the conclusion that both appreciation and gratitude seemed to be strongly connected to happiness. The author of this study, N.S. Fagley concluded that people are happier when they take time to appreciate the good, meaningful things and people in their life.
Sounds simple enough and it is. At the end of the day, stopping to smell the roses is really all about thankfulness and mindfulness. It’s about consciously pressing the pause button and taking the time to enjoy whatever it is you’re doing or watching or listening to, in that moment. It’s about trying not to always rush through life on autopilot.
When we find a way to interrupt our busy schedules and enjoy what’s right in front of us, we can look around and appreciate all the details, we tend to find we have more time to do the things that really matter. We start to feel more connected to ourselves and with all the people in our life and, most importantly, in our family. As an added bonus, we when take time to focus on, and appreciate the small things, the big challenges somehow seem more manageable. After all everyone needs to see light at the end of tunnel!
Not sure where to start?
Well, here are ten ideas to help you focus on the moment and to smell the roses:
1. Enjoy what’s right in front of you.
If without any planning what’s so ever, all members of the family are in the lounge at the same time watching a favorite TV show, without bickering, enjoy the moment (however brief that moment might be). That night when everyone is home and congregating in the kitchen and leaning against the breakfast bar chatting or debating – notice it, revel in it.
Is there laughter in your stepfamily household? When you observe family members sharing a laugh together, stop what you are doing, even if just for a couple of seconds to savior it! Laughter is proven to have positive health impacts, from reducing stress levels to diminishing physical and emotional pain. When we laugh, endorphins are triggered and muscles relax. It is a terrific combination as it is free and fun – no wonder they call it the best medicine.
3. Don’t let any progress, however small, go unrewarded.
When you observe your stepkids and your kids getting long, enjoy it. Give the kids, all of them, praise.
4. Endeavour to take care that you give credit for something well done.
Even if it is just saying “well-done” or “great effort”. Verbal praise is both the cheapest and the easiest form of positive reinforcement you can provide.
5. Spontaneously give thanks.
Thank your partner/spouse, your kids or your stepchildren when they do something right or behave appropriately in difficult circumstances and/or in a way that made you proud.
6. Remember dates.
Maintain family rituals and, where possible and appropriate, celebrate family achievements and birthdays together (if not on the actual day then a day either side of the actual event). There are a number of free or low cost apps available to help you remember important dates and information such as Occasions; Dreamdays Lite: Count Down to the Days that Matter; Countdown – remember your important dates; and MyCalender Mobile to name a few.
7. Regularly set aside dedicate time for the family to be together.
Make the commitment. Make it simple. Make it fun. Make it matter. For example, however nerdy it might feel, try to schedule in a family fun night. Let the kids set the agenda: perhaps a movie with home made popcorn? a board game such as Monopoly? Sing Star or similar on the PlayStation where everyone has to have a turn? Turn your kitchen into an Italian pizzeria and have everyone make a home-made pizza for dinner. Weather permitting, eating outside can also be a fun summertime ritual.
8. Nurture your couple relationship.
Make time for you and your partner/spouse, even if to start with it is only a couple hours each month or fortnight. Couple time is as important as personal and family time.
9. Elevate the importance of family dinner time
Not necessarily every night – that would be well and truly impossible for the majority of families – but aim to share a meal once a week or fortnight or even once a month. Ban technology from the table. Eating together provides opportunity for both kids and adults to digest not only their food, but also the events of the day. If dinner during the week is neigh impossible due to competing schedules, perhaps aim for a weekend breakfast or brunch or even a quick family picnic whilst at little Johnnie’s soccer game.
We are all guilty of talking to our partner or the children but are distracted by devices. Have set times when all family members a disconnected so you can focus on one another or on other things. During these set times make sure that ALL family members phone, iPads etc. shut off – even the adults!
No matter how hurried you are or how busy, take time to be in the moment, to reflect on what is around you, how far you might have come and how much you have achieved and your own and your stepfamily’s successes – even those that, at the time, may seem like small victories. Slow down. Take time for yourself. Stop. And don’t forget to smell the roses.
It’s difficult to find time for everyone in a stepfamily – to create opportunities to spend time with your kids, time with your stepkids, time for your entire family, time for you, and time for you and your partner. It’s hard to know who and what to give priority. It’s a good idea to take baby steps, not giant leaps when figuring all of this out. Even with the best intentions in the world and all our will power aroused, it is always difficult to commit to certain long-term goals and to stick to, and achieve them. Instead of determinedly stating the family WILL have dinner together every Friday only managing to fulfil that goal once, or maybe twice (for whatever reason. Perhaps instead, start with stating that this Friday we will have dinner together. Then afterwards plan to have another shared meal at some point in the future, be it in a week or a fortnight or a month. Hopefully, they will become more frequent and become a habit without feeling like a chore. It also takes away the guilt we all inevitably feel when we set ourselves a goal and don’t stick to it.